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Watch Out For Bridezilla: Avoiding A Wedding Etiquette Blunder


Switching gears now. It's wedding season. You might be invited to a wedding or two or three. Yesterday we talked about how engaged couples should start talking about money before the wedding, so if you'd like to catch up on that conversation, go to npr.org.

So about that wedding - it is one of the more stressful events in a person's life. And that, well - could it be because people don't know how to behave? So we brought back two our favorite guides on how to behave to get us all straightened out when it comes to wedding etiquette. They will also answer some of the questions you've been tweeting us. And with us now, once again, are Steven Petrow - he writes the advice columns "Civilities" for The Washington Post. And he's also author of "Steven Petrow's Complete Gay And Lesbian Manners." Welcome back.

STEVEN PETROW: Great to be with you.

MARTIN: Also joining us once again, Karen Grigsby Bates. She's author of the etiquette book "Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times." She's also an NPR correspondent. Karen Grigsby Bates, welcome back to you as well.


MARTIN: So let me just start by asking you - Karen, maybe you'll start us off here. What are some of the questions that come up over and over again?

BATES: One of the top ones people always say is, I got an invitation to thus-and-so's wedding, and I don't think I'm going to be able go. Do I have to send a present?

MARTIN: Really? Why do you think that's the thing that comes up over and over again?

BATES: Because times are tough economically. People are worried about it, and weddings tend to come in clumps. And we're right at the beginning of the start of serious-business wedding season. So I'd say from sort of mid-May to about late-August, early-September there's going to be a lot of that going on.

MARTIN: So what's the answer to that question?

BATES: Well, I've always said that a wedding invitation is not a quid pro quo. It's not like you buy a ticket to go to the wedding by giving somebody a toaster. And the whole business of wedding presents started out when people used to live with their parents until they got married. So they didn't have any stuff. You know, your mom had all the stuff. Now couples often live together, or they've been working for a while. And they bought things that they like, and so maybe they don't need or want as much stuff. Sometimes what I've seen in registries is people saying, the thing I really, really want, I'm saving up for, but if you guys want to contribute to my super-duper mixer, I'd love to have that. Fine.

MARTIN: But to the question of people saying, do I have to send a present - your answer is, no, you don't have to.

BATES: No, you do not have to send a present.

MARTIN: OK. Steven Petrow, what about you? What's your answer to that?

PETROW: Presents are really voluntary. But I think, in this case, because so many couples view them with emotion and love, it's a great idea to give some kind of gift. It's a symbolic gesture.

MARTIN: And, Steven, you write about changing manners in a number of circumstances. You write about kind of the changing social mores. I mean, people are entering new territory with same-sex weddings, and to many people this is new. This is kind of a new experience, and they feel uncertain there. And you also write about changing digital manners. What are some of the questions that come up for you most often?

PETROW: Well, among same-sex couples and those invited to same-sex weddings it really is - it's new territory. And I kind of see my role as a manners advice columnist as a psychotherapist for helping people get through these anxiety fraught moments. And so for gays and lesbians, there's the question, you know, are mom and dad going to help pay? Usually not because, as Karen just mentioned, these couples tend to have been together for a while. They've got stuff, and they can afford their own wedding.

For parents there are lots of questions. Again, will they be paying, but also will dad be dancing with his son during the first dance? No. That's not usually the case. Will the parents be escorting the couple - the same-sex couple - down the aisle? Sometimes. It's a beautiful, symbolic gesture, but many of these couples also have been together. They like the symbolism of escorting or walking themselves down the aisle.

MARTIN: Steven, you wrote recently in one of your columns - it was actually a very emotional issue, I think, for many people - which is the question of family members who have not necessarily been accepting of their relationship. And then the question arises when the wedding - if the couple does go forward and they decide to solemnize their relationship and make that commitment, should they invite a family member - a close family member - who has not been particularly supportive in the past? And you had an answer that I think surprised a lot of people. Some people were not thrilled with it. Do you want to tell us what you said?

PETROW: I'd be happy to. And you're right. People were - many people were not thrilled. So in this particular instance, the woman who wrote in, she had told her parents that she was getting married to her fiancee - and that's fiancee with two Es. And they did not say congratulations. They did not really respond in any way. So now they were debating whether or not to invite their parents. And my answer was, yes. Take the high road. Embrace them. This is what families do.

And my advice to the parents was accept - it does not mean that you need to go vote for same-sex marriage in your state. It doesn't mean that you're giving money to freedom to marry. It just means that you're there to support your daughter.

But I would say was 50-50, the response. Many people agreed and think that, as I do, the way to change hearts and minds is to invite people to a wedding. Who has not been to a wedding and, you know, gotten, you know, teary-eyed and so on? So I think people do understand, you know, it's about love and commitment. But many others felt that you should not be extending this olive branch. This couple had been rebuked already and should not put themselves in the line of fire again.

MARTIN: Karen, I'm wondering if this question has arisen also with interracial marriages.

BATES: And not just race. This is something that transcends a whole bunch of different situations. And my thought is the same as Steven's. You know, invite people, and assume that they will come if they're comfortable, that they won't if they aren't. And let them know that you expect them to come and be part of a celebration - not to sit there dour-faced and censorious as you walk down the aisle. I think if people are going to do that, they wouldn't come.

And I think what I've discovered is that lots of times, when people say, I'd never do that, blah, blah, blah, after a while they start thinking, well, it is my kid. And so they come, and they think, you know, all right, fine. I'm going to come because it's the polite thing to do and then, as Steven says, get themselves caught up in it because it's your child. And you want your child to be happy. And so if someone is next to your child who is pledging to love him or her and protect him or her and, you know, serve him or her all the days of his or her life, then that makes you a little verklempt.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we are talking about wedding etiquette. We are talking with two of our trusted advisors on matters of etiquette. We are talking with Karen Grigsby Bates and Steven Petrow.

OK, what about the whole question of - we were talking earlier, Karen, about saving money. A lot of people, to save money, have been going the paperless route. Not just saving money - for some people it's an ethical issue. They feel like if you - like, if you can save the paper, why not save the paper? So where are you on the digital invitation?

BATES: Oh, I'm afraid I am not in favor of the digital wedding invitation. For birthday parties, sure. For potlucks, fine. For alumni get-togethers, no problem. I think weddings are different. You know, they're imbued with this sense of ceremony. They're looked at as milestones. That's something that me, fogey that I am, would like to keep. And so I would like my wedding invitation to arrive in the mail with a stamp and a response envelope - that also has a stamp on it.

MARTIN: OK. Lightning round, folks, lighting round on this one. These are from our Twitter followers. Liz (ph) in Ann Arbor - Karen, this is for you - Liz in Ann Arbor, Michigan, wants to know how to handle a family member scheduling her wedding two weeks before hers. This is after Liz sent out the save-the-dates. Does she have anything to say to her? What should she say, if anything?

BATES: She should say congratulations and don't worry about it because I'm assuming that these weddings are in two different and, you know, far-apart places. The people who got her invitation, who want to be there, they're going to come to her wedding. Some people may be able to come to both. But her friends will be there.

MARTIN: All right. Steven - another Twitter question for you - Jenna (ph) in Syracuse, New York, says, do I have to choose a maid of honor? I'm hesitant to pick a favorite out of my three best friends.

PETROW: No, Jenna does not. Really, what maids of honor do are commanders in chief, and the more the merrier. You'll just give them more tasks to do, and it'll be an easier wedding for you. So no decision need to be made that way.

MARTIN: Steven, going back to the question we talked about earlier - family members who have not been supportive of your relationship, and you're saying invite them anyway - I want to go back to how much resistance you got to that idea. What is your response to the people who adamantly disagree? Did you have one?

PETROW: I did, and what I saw, really, in those who disagreed with me was the amount of pain and hurt they had suffered from their family members. And that was very, you know - that was very meaningful to me, too. And they explained. Many of them explained the circumstances how they got to be so isolated in their lives and how their families had not been there to support them during their whole roadmap. So I really could understand this pain, and I think that, perhaps, best way to turn that pain into love is to invite them. But it really was - it was very heartfelt on their part.

MARTIN: Karen, finally - bridezilla...


MARTIN: If there is a bridezilla in your world who keeps giving you orders and, you know, demanding things and, you know, bachelorette weekends in Vegas and things of - just kind of a level of, you know, obedience that you perhaps were not signed up for. What do you do?

BATES: I think you do what you can, when you can and the rest of it you have to let slide. You know it really - the bridezilla's excuse is, this is the most important day of my life, and it has to be perfect. Well, if this is the most important day of your life, what does that say about the day your children are born, you know, the day you get the advanced degree you want, the day you find out you're cancer-free? I mean, there are a lot of wonderful things one hopes that lie ahead for you, and the wedding is sort of a little punctuation point. But marriage may be, if you're lucky, for way longer than that. So focus more on the marriage, less on the wedding.

MARTIN: Steven, final thought from you. Forgive me if this is sexist. But I don't hear that much about groomzilla. Do you?

PETROW: That is really a very funny question, Michel, because I have been told by many of my gay male friends that within every same-sex couple, there is a male bridezilla just waiting to come out.

MARTIN: What's your advice to the person who asks you for advice about how deal with groomzilla? What do you say?

PETROW: I think the best answer is, that's the price of equality. We asked to get married, to have that right. Now we have to deal with some of the downside - the male bridezilla.

MARTIN: Male bridezilla. All right. Steven Petrow writes the advice column "Civilities" for The Washington Post. He's author of "Stephen Petrow's Complete Gay And Lesbian Manners." We caught up with him at member station WUNC, which is in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Karen Grigsby Bates is author of the etiquette book "Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times." She's an NPR correspondent and she joined us from NPR West, which is in Culver City, California. Thank you both so much.

BATES: Thanks, Michel.

PETROW: Bye, Michel. Bye, Karen.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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